Micromodels


Various thoughts I’ve had over the past few years, or ideas that have been gifted to me, that fit into somewhat neat packages. To be revised eventually.

On Practice

I think of practice and theory as two oars in a rowboat. If you want to cross a river in the boat, i.e. become proficient in a skill, you have to row with both oars. Too much relative practice and you start slowing down. Too much relative theory and you’re running in place, the theory has nothing to stick to in your somatic experience. In both cases, your boat will spin in circles.

On Pain

Tasshin describes two things that most online comments can be boiled down to: “I like you” and “Please love me (I’m hurting)”. There are certainly a small handful of counter-examples, but, in my opinion, fewer than we might initially think.

Most importantly, I think any bitter, harsh, or otherwise frustrated or frustrating comments generally can be translated, with almost zero loss of data, into one of these. When people complain about the other gender in a dating context, they are expressing their hurt and asking for something in relation to their hurt. And it’s not “please change”, it’s “please acknowledge my pain”, or “see how I have been wronged”.

This theory neatly explains so much for me. Why are instagram comments on viral posts the way that they are? It’s because the commenters are in intense emotional pain that they have not been given the skills to navigate or wield. And when you dig into people’s desire to manage others or normalize certain things, it inevitably comes from a place of fear, or insecurity, or lack.

Suddenly, we can view the world as a bunch of people who desire love, and lack a vocabulary around it, or else lack permission to use that vocabulary.

At this point, I see all claims around “losers” and “weirdos” and generally condemning any population for anything, primarily an expression of pain. I find it much easier to drop into sympathy when I do this, instead of having my hackles raised. It also makes it easier to distinguish between real and perceived threat, in my experience.

“Love everybody and tell the truth”

Ram Dass asked his guru, Neem Karoli Baba, about enlightenment: “What can I do to get enlightened?” and Maharajji replied, “Love everybody and tell the truth.”

I used to think this sounded really trite, until I realized how fundamentally in conflict with each other these directives personally felt. When I held them together in my head, all the ways my “love-giving” was based in something other than love, or my sense of truth was underdeveloped. Interrogating that space has been an extremely useful exercise for me, and has never failed to guide me towards internally-aligned decisions that I feel good about in the moment and afterwards.

Advice is a conceptual handle for existing intuitions

I think advice is largely useless until you’re ready to hear it. It can steer you slightly in a direction, but ultimately it only makes real sense in retrospect. In this way, the primary purpose of advice is to provide a conceptual handle for an intuition or felt sense that you already had. It functions as a pointer in that it lets you refer back to it and find it easily.

Verbal summaries are checksums: lossy summaries

It functions as a checksum in that it’s an extremely lossy compression of an experience, but it definitely refers to that experience and not anything else. One example of this is when people say that we’re all connected or love is all that matters after doing some serious metta or vipassana. They’re trite statements that don’t really contain any of the knowledge they point to, but they do point to the knowledge. If you say these things to someone with no somatic experience of deep connection to the universe, they’ll probably be lightly annoyed and think you’re cringe. If you say these things to someone with that somatic experience, they will grin and nod knowingly. Yes. It’s true.

When something sounds implausible, we should of course regard it with a reasonable amount of doubt. But we should also remember that, as they say, the map is not the territory, and so the “labelled dot” on the map is not “the interiority of the millions of people who live in the city that dot represents”. In the same way, recounting an experience is (painfully) lossy, and sometimes the difference between “we’re all connected” and we’re all connected is impossibly vast, but it’s the best pointer we have. So I vote we listen in good faith.

The people who post on reddit are not doing so hot

I think subreddits tend to be overwhelmingly negative for a few reasons, but it’s important to remember that, first and foremost, reddit is full of people who don’t have a grasp on their neuroticism or strategies for dealing with it.

When these things happen, you will be less likely to find yourself on reddit:

I think all of these being the case dramatically increases the chance that people who are in social starvation or a lot of pain are the ones who most gravitate towards hobby-, solidarity-, or interest-based subreddits (e.g. a meditation subreddit, a chronic illness subreddit, and a star wars subreddit) because they lock themselves out of (or otherwise are unable to participate in) richer experiences that happen mostly offline or in smaller, more niche fora. I wish them all the very best of luck, and feel deeply for them, as someone who’s been there myself.

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